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Every Crisis is a Digital Opportunity: The Aganaktismenoi Movement’s Use of Social Media and the Emergence of Networked Solidarity in Greece

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Every Crisis is a Digital Opportunity: The Aganaktismenoi
Movement’s Use of Social Media and the Emergence of
Networked Solidarity in Greece
Yannis Theocharis
Mannheim Centre for European Social Research
(Forthcoming in The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, edited
by Bruns, A., Skogerbø, E., Christensen, C., Larssson, A.O. & Gunn, E.)
Please note that this is a preliminary draft and thus still subject to change
Introduction
In late 2009, many of the most widely read international news outlets dedicated their cover page
to news and commentary about the unfolding “Greek tragedy.” Many analysts voiced the concern that
Greece’s economic crisis could spread into other heavily indebted countries, which would ignite a Euro-
pean sovereign debt crisis. After widely criticized policy maneuvers (and in exchange for multi-billion
euro bailouts) the Greek government signed a series of memoranda with the European Commission,
the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (the so-called troika), which com-
mitted it to tough austerity measures that quickly started tearing the country’s social fabric apart. The
public’s response was immediate and strong: massive, and often violent, social unrest including mass
demonstrations, strikes, riots and occupations of public institutions.
In May 2011, with Greece’s two-party system near collapse, the Aganaktismenoi (or “Indignant citi-
zens”) movement emerged. It was a bottom-up anti-austerity initiative that was influenced by – and in
many ways resembled – the Spanish 15M movement, also known as Indignados. The Aganaktismenoi
sought to serve as a new political voice representing a new generation of protesters, which would be
radically different from the left-wing labor union activists that have been filling the capital’s streets over
the last several decades. The Aganaktismenoi also claimed to be non-partisan and non-violent, and
to support greater citizen intervention into politics through direct democratic practices. While some
Please address any correspondence to: yannis.theocharis@uni- mannheim.de
1
members of the public supported the movement’s aims and saw it as a first and productive effort to
increase the citizens’ voice in policy-making, others rejected it as an immature, politically uninformed
and aimless gathering of disillusioned and outraged citizens that would achieve nothing and be quickly
forgotten.
Regardless of how one evaluates the overall impact of Aganaktismenoi, its extensive use of social
media sets it apart from previous mobilizations in the country. The movement’s mobilization took place
entirely via social networking sites and microblogs (Ekathimerini, 2012), which conforms to recent
observations elsewhere in Europe suggesting that protesters have been recruited in recent years using
more open mobilization channels (Verhulst and Walgrave, 2009; Klandermans et al., 2014), especially
digital media (Bennett et al., 2008). Yet, most importantly, this mobilization is in striking contrast to
the organization-based protests that have taken place in the country for many decades, which were
mainly organized by – and brought to the streets – the “usual suspects,” such as labor union and political
party activists (Rüdig and Karyotis, 2013). Indeed, the protesters who filled Syntagma (Constitution)
Square in Athens during the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations displayed a rather unusual profile.
Although the movement’s formal institutional outcomes were not significant (Sotiropoulos, 2014),
it had important and visible ramifications for Greek civil society, in large part due to the extensive and
innovative use of social media. In this chapter I argue that this impact has presented Greek citizens with
five unique opportunities. First, to self-organize and coordinate their opposition to the government’s
unpopular measures without the support of traditional political organizations. Second, to establish sol-
idarity ties and extend their voice well beyond Greece through cooperation with similar anti-austerity
movements elsewhere in Europe. Third, to mobilize a different segment of the population than in
previous protests in Greece. Fourth, to create a loosely connected online network of individuals that
would maintain ties long after the end of the mobilizations and which could be immediately activated
when needed, helping bottom-up solidarity initiatives relying on social media find an audience and
recruit volunteers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it gave Greek citizens the opportunity to
strengthen civil society by creatively implementing social media-based civic innovations.
The chapter is organized as follows. First, it introduces some theoretical considerations about the
impact of social media on collective action organization and provides some contextual information
about the use of these tools for protest organization in Greece. Focusing on Twitter, it then discusses
the structure of the Aganaktismenoi network. It documents some of the key aspects of its operation
and, drawing comparisons with the 15M movement in Spain, suggests that there are indications that
the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations represented a crowd-enabled connective action mobilization. Before
concluding with a discussion of the consequences of social media use during the Aganaktismenoi mo-
bilizations on Greek civil society, the chapter shows how networks established during the mobilizations
were subsequently used to support bottom-up solidarity initiatives.
2
Social media, political action and organizational change: Theoret-
ical considerations
In the past decade, much of the scholarship on the transformative effect of information and communi-
cation technologies has investigated the internet’s role in political mobilization. The strengthening of
the communication strategies of advocacy groups and social movements, and the addition of internet-
enabled and internet-supported action repertoires, have been among the many changes brought about
by the internet (Merry, 2012; Van Laer and Van Aelst, 2010; Chadwick, 2007; Vegh, 2003). Some of
the most well-documented outcomes of these changes are the empowerment of campaign practices
like fundraising, and the facilitation of activist network collaboration and coalition building among
organizations (Bennett, 2003; Kahn and Kellner, 2004; Juris, 2005; Postmes and Brunsting, 2002).
Although the adoption of the internet seems to have forever altered the mobilization strategies of so-
cial movements and activist groups, the extent to which these changes have fundamentally affected
(rather than simply magnified), the underlying processes that bring people to the streets remains a
contentious topic.
The emergence of more collaborative and social networking-oriented Web 2.0 tools has reignited
the debate about how central a role information and communication technologies play in the orga-
nization of collective action. Over the last five years, millions of people across the globe, from Cairo
and New York to Madrid and Hong Kong, have used platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – and
their mobile versions – to become more informed about the heated social and political issues facing
their countries (Castells, 2012). In the process, they have become more connected with others who
happen to share their frustration, values and aspirations; have taken advantage of numerous social
media-enabled opportunities to encourage their networks to support specific causes; and have been
invited (and persuaded) by friends or acquaintances to take to the streets (Gerbaudo, 2012; Tufekci
and Wilson, 2012). Adding a score of highly customizable and cheap ways to engage with political
and social issues – such as creating groups, organizing events, sharing hashtags and uploading videos
– social media are considered to be agents of change in the field of collective action (Bennett and
Segerberg, 2013; Earl and Kimport, 2011; Tufekci, 2014).
A central question in the field, however, is whether social media have fundamentally changed the
dynamics of political mobilization. Two theoretical approaches address this question. The first argues
that social media have not altered the fundamental dynamics of participation; rather, participation
levels and the diversity of participatory forms have increased to the point that they are ‘supersized’
(Earl and Kimport, 2011, p.71). The second approach argues that the emergence and widespread use
of Web 2.0 platforms (Bruns, 2008) is creating a new model of mobilization. This type of mobilization
has three key elements (for an in-depth discussion, see (Bimber et al., 2012; Bennett and Segerberg,
2013)). First, Web 2.0 platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have the capacity to dramatically re-
duce the costs of organizing and participating in collective action through embedded features such
3
as group and event creation (and many others). A second element is that user-generated political
content can be easily personalized and adapted to one’s values, identity and self-expressive inclina-
tions. The third element is that such content can be easily communicated across social networks of
friends, acquaintances or simple “followers”, facilitating organization without the need for, or the sup-
port of, formal organizations or other traditional mobilizing agents. By assuming that social media
is the central organizing agent, this protest organization logic – which some argue renders organiza-
tions’ long-established resource mobilizing role (McCarthy and Zald, 1977) less relevant – has been
understood as one of connective action (Bennett and Segerberg, 2013). In its ideal form, this logic of
connective action helps crowds organize protest acts using digital media communication as the primary
organizational agent; the brokering functions of formal organizations are not needed. One of the core
consequences of this model change is that a new type of protester may be emerging (Earl, 2014; Earl
et al., 2013; Earl and Kimport, 2011; Chadwick, 2012): the skillful young social media user who is oc-
casionally (and ephemerally) mobilized by calls for action in her news feed, is not affiliated with any
formal organizations (but contributes information from the demonstration using the protest event’s
official hashtag), has not previously been politically involved, and is more prone to participating in a
one-off mobilization or protest event that expresses her values and identity preferences.
Mobilization in the Aganaktismenoi movement
Greece adopted internet technologies widely later than other countries in the region, and is still at
the low end of European internet penetration rates (68%). Thus it was not among the first countries
to see a popularization of social media use (and hence their extensive use during protest events). In
2011, only around 30,000 internet users had a Twitter account, and less than half of the country’s six
million internet users were on Facebook (Internet World Stats, 2014; Communication Effect, 2011).
Yet, there has been a radical rise in the number of Facebook and Twitter users over the last five years.
An estimated 4.5 million Greeks have a Facebook account, which is almost equal to rates in Spain
and Italy but much lower than in the UK, Sweden and Norway (Kemp, 2014). Most of those (nearly
three million) access social media on their mobile devices (Kemp, 2014). Although Twitter users are
substantially fewer – around 370,000 at the time of writing – Twitter it is the preferred tool for actively
following the latest developments and its users believe it has fairly trustworthy information (Monitor,
2014; ELTRUN, 2013).
The Aganaktismenoi movement, the most visible public reaction to the crisis, was predominantly
a movement of citizens entirely disillusioned with the party system and with any notion of “left” and
“right,” who were devoid of any trust in the established political elite, the labor unions and the media
(Sotiropoulos, 2014). Much of the movement’s rhetoric emphasized the lack of avenues for political
expression and representation, and the high levels of corruption among politicians (To Vima, 2012).
They criticized the media particularly strongly – especially traditional media channels, which they
4
asserted were highly corrupt and accountable for the lack of credible political reporting (and reporting
about the movement). Facebook and Twitter were alleged to be the main organizing platforms of
the Aganaktismenoi protest events, especially the major mobilization of May 25 (Ekathimerini, 2012;
Ethnos, 2011). The calls for participation through the Aganaktismenoi’s Facebook page and the hashtag
#greekrevolution encouraged citizens to meet at Athens’ Syntagma Square and in other Greek cities to
protest peacefully without party banners. Although, as Sotiropoulos notes (Sotiropoulos, 2014, p.22),
the number of protesters is difficult to determine, the most commonly accepted estimate is 140,000 at
the movement’s peak (Sotiropoulos, 2014). Inspired by Madrid’s “acampadas” (encampments) during
the 15M protests, some protesters also occupied Syntagma Square and held regular daily meetings and
general assemblies until the protests gradually faded out in July.
Since organizations – especially labor unions – have played a crucial role in Greece’s protest culture
over the last 50 years (Rüdig and Karyotis, 2013), the Aganaktismenoi protesters’ mobilization via
social media was a novel feature (To Vima, 2012). Although such platforms were used to organize
past protests (see, for example, (Tsaliki, 2010)), the response to this call to action was far greater than
that of any previous social media-enabled (or social media-supported) protest event. The size of the
mobilization thus raises a number of stimulating questions with regards to the organizational role of
these platforms: How was social media used for mobilization purposes? Is there any evidence that this
mobilization was close to the ideal type of crowd-enabled connective action, or did organizations play
a role (albeit a subtle one) simply by providing personalized action frames (Bennett and Segerberg,
2013)? If this was indeed a case of connective action, how did the Aganaktismenoi build their network
of support, and what did that network look like? Was the mobilized crowd composed of a “new” type of
protester? Finally, since the movement produced little policy impact, did the mobilizations nevertheless
have other social or political repercussions? And what role did social media play in them?
An Instance of Connective Action?
There is very little research on the use of social media during the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations, and
even less empirical evidence from the protests on the ground (but see the comparative studies by
(Theocharis et al., 2015; Lu et al., 2012)). A starting point for understanding the role of social media
– and especially that of the logic of connective action – during the Aganaktismenoi movement is to look
at its sister 15M movement in Spain. The 15M protests represent one of the few empirically robust
examples of connective action thanks to meticulous studies conducted by Anduiza and colleagues and
others (Anduiza et al., 2014); see also (González-Bailón et al., 2011; Bennett and Segerberg, 2013).
These studies have shown that traditional mobilizing agents played no significant role in organizing
the protests; digital media channels were the predominant organizational and recruitment agent. Al-
though no similar study has been conducted on the recruitment for the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations,
there are indications that social media may have played a similar mobilizing role (Theocharis et al.,
5
Figure 1: The Aganaktismenoi Twitter Network (#greekrevolution)
2015).
Figure 1 uses Twitter data collected using Discovertext’s (discovertext.com) social media crawler. It
analyzes the characteristics of the Aganaktismenoi network from May 31, 2011 to June 25, 2011 using
the open-source social network analysis software Gephi (see (Bruns, 2012)) on the generation of con-
versation networks on Twitter); an in-depth exploration of the tweets’ content was beyond the scope
of this chapter. The network was generated from 17,866 tweets posted under the two most widely
used hashtags during the period: #greekrevolution and #25Mgr. Despite the absence of data during
the grand protest event of May 25, as the mobilizations remained vibrant for more than a month, the
data cover the peak of the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations and provide a sufficient source for observ-
ing Twitter’s role as a mobilizing agent. In order to better understand how extensively information
was distributed on Twitter (and by whom), the network includes both tweets and retweets. Basic
network analysis measures reveal a good deal about the network’s organization. Traditional political
organizations (such as parties, labor unions or other coalitions) played no organizational role on social
media. None of the 500 most active Twitter accounts (which, put together, generated or re-generated
most of the distributed content) belonged to a traditional political organization.1As other studies
1Level of activity (in terms of tweeting or re-tweeting information) was calculated using the accounts’ out-degree centrality,
which represents the number of ties that the node directs to others – in this context: when addressing or retweeting another
user. It needs to be added that the notion of betweenness centrality is crucial to understanding information distribution (and
thus organization) on a Twitter network. The node with the highest betweenness centrality in a network lies in the shortest
path between every other pair of nodes. Thus, from an organizational point of view, nodes with high betweenness centrality
6
have shown (Gruzd et al., 2011; Theocharis, 2013), most of the content (re)production was (unsur-
prisingly) carried out by well-established and popular Twitterers (for example, only one of the top 10
most popular Twitterers had less than 1,000 followers, while most had more than 5,000). Alternative
media channels and influential blogs (such as @radiobubblenews, @thepressproject and @prezatv)
and the Greek branch of the hacktivist network Anonymous (@AnonLegionGR) also played a major
role in (re)producing content. Considering that Twitter use in Greece by that time amounted to a little
more than 30,000 users – and that the top five most popular Greeks tweeting under #greekrevolution
alone had more than 50,000 followers combined – it is fair to assume that the vast majority of Greek
Twitter users saw in their feed at least some information related to the activities of the movement on
a daily basis. Granted that Twitter is the most prominent “stitching mechanism used to coordinate
[...]actors and platforms within the wider protest ecology” (Bennett et al., 2014, p.272), it is likely
that much of this information was also widely shared on Facebook, reaching a substantially broader
audience.
A striking feature of the network is the support and co-production of content by Twitter accounts
that also included the main hashtags of the 15M mobilization (15M, spanishrevolution), which was
peaking around the same time. Using Gephi’s modularity statistic that attempts to find clusters in
the graph by identifying highly interconnected components, two clearly distinct communities can be
discerned. Going through the Twitter handles of the 100 most influential Twitterers of the first commu-
nity, it is evident that the upper part of the network – in dark gray – consists of Greek Twitterers using
mainly the #greekrevolution hashtag. By contrast, the lower one, in light gray, consists exclusively
of Spanish Twitterers who, along with spreading information in solidarity with the Aganaktismenoi
movement using the official hashtag #greekrevolution, bring the two causes together by also using
the 15M hashtag. That the two movements were showing solidarity and closely supporting each other
online is evident not only from the integration of these two communities, but also by the fact that many
of the top ten most influential Twitter users of the #greekrevolution network were Spanish (e.g., the
account established by the occupants of the Puerta del Sol Square in Spain (@acampadasol), accounts
of other encampments in Spain (@acampadaPalma, @acampadabcn), popular bloggers and journalists
(@antoniofraguas), and various self-organized platforms (@democraciareal, @juventudsin)).
It is clear that the protests were, as far as online mobilisation using Twitter was concerned, indeed
carried out without the involvement of traditional political organizations. Internet-based alternative
news channels, bloggers, and the wider Twitter public within and outside Greece were responsible
for the (co)production and circulation of content about the events. In this respect, combining these
insights with evidence from other studies demonstrating that the Aganaktismenoi demonstrators heard
about the events though social media (To Vima, 2012),2we can cautiously argue that the mobilizations
conformed to two important aspects of the crowd-enabled type of connective action: that the prevalent
have a large influence on the network due to their awareness of the information circulating the network and their ability (and
influence) to act as information gatekeepers. A calculation of the 500 most influential nodes based on betweenness centrality
did not, however, yield different results as to the presence of organizations.
2A summary of the study by Georgiadou and colleagues can be found in a report by the Greek newspaper To Vima.
7
mobilization channels indeed heavily involved the use of social media, and that no traditional political
organizations were involved in organizing the events through these avenues.
A final important aspect of crowd-enabled connective action protests that distinguishes them from
protests that are organized – or at least supported to some extent – by traditional political organiza-
tions is the composition of the protest public. Did the widespread circulation of the Aganaktismenoi
movement’s activities on social media result in the mobilization of a different crowd? In the absence
of appropriate empirical evidence, it is difficult to argue that this was the case. However, parallels with
the mobilizing role of social media in the 15M movement, which had so many things in common with
the Agankatismenoi, can be drawn, and some recent research on the composition of the anti-austerity
protest publics right before the rise of Aganaktismenoi can offer important – although in no way causal
– insights.
Just like in Greece during the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations, never before had Spain experienced
street demonstrations of that scale without the involvement of traditional organizations or significant
coverage from the mainstream media (Anduiza et al., 2014, p.761). The groups staging the events in
Spain were different (e.g., internet-based, young and without formal membership) from organizations
that had traditionally organized demonstrations. The socio-political composition of the demonstra-
tors was also significantly different from the typical very politically active, organizationally affiliated
protesters. In the 15M mobilization, the protesters were younger, more educated, unemployed, and
with lower levels of previous political activity and organizational involvement (Anduiza et al., 2014,
p.751, 762). Findings from a unique study on the demonstrators’ composition during the anti-austerity
protests in Greece (Rüdig and Karyotis, 2013) suggest a similar contrast between traditional vs. new
protesters. Rüdig and Karyotis (Rüdig and Karyotis, 2013) concluded that, once protest experience
is taken into account,3new protesters who took part in anti-austerity demonstrations and strikes in
2010 did not conform to the typical well-educated protester profile, and were less likely to be members
of traditional political organizations or associated with left-wing ideology. Although the mobilizations
examined in their study preceded the rise of the Aganaktismenoi by five months (and thus the question
of whether social media played a major role in mobilizing such a different crowd should be subjected
to further empirical investigation), evidence from interviews with Aganaktismenoi protesters in Syn-
tagma Square shows that the events drew in a similar crowd (To Vima, 2012). In all, although the
causal role of social media mobilization remains the subject of empirical scrutiny, extant evidence
shows that these self-organized protests may have also produced (or contributed to) one of the most
important consequences of connective action protests: the mobilization of a new type of protest par-
ticipant.
3This is particularly important, given that participation in protests and strikes was a regular feature of Greek life well before
the anti-austerity protests. See (Rüdig and Karyotis, 2013, p.492)(Pappas and O’Malley, 2014, p.1597).
8
Connective action and beyond: The emergence of networked soli-
darity
The Aganaktismenoi encampment lasted approximately a month (from late May to mid-July 2011),
after which the protests died out (Sotiropoulos, 2014). One of the most interesting questions that
emerges is whether the utility of these mobilization channels and networks extended beyond the end
of the protest events. This question has become very relevant, especially after the mainstream inter-
national media documented bottom-up solidarity initiatives that emerged after the end of the Aganak-
tismenoi mobilizations (by people who participated in those mobilizations) (Henley, 2012c,a,b). The
formation and volunteer base of many of these bottom-up initiatives can be traced back to the Syntagma
Square protests (Demertzian, 2014). Their rise and supportive role to existing civil society organiza-
tions is clearly an important consequence of the Aganaktismenoi movement, especially given the dire
condition of Greek civil society over the last several years (Sotiropoulos and Karamagioli, 2006). Yet
perhaps even more interesting, due to their formation in the virtual space, are spontaneous, social
media-based and social media-enabled networked solidarity initiatives. These initiatives were built
upon connective action networks established during the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations (both online
and offline), and were maintained long after that period.
A prominent example of such initiatives is #Tutorpool which began with a tweet on December 12,
2011. Following vibrant discussions with a good number of Twitterers from all over Greece, Twitter
user @doltsevito, a statistician and teacher, voiced the idea for a networked solidarity initiative focused
on the voluntary teaching of children whose parents were in financial difficulties.4The plan was to use
online social networks to distribute calls for volunteers who could provide children in their area with
free one-to-one lessons. Google Maps would help pinpoint the location of the children so that nearby
volunteers would know where support was needed. If no one could provide support locally, teachers
with the relevant expertise could arrange Skype lessons. In agreement that many schoolchildren whose
families had been hit hard by the crisis were losing out, many qualified Twitterers immediately offered
to help, and those who were not qualified spread the word with retweets or contributed in other ways
(e.g., computer specialists built a website or configured the maps). Three months later, more than
300 families had registered with #Tutorpool, which had more than 500 volunteer tutors across Greece
(and beyond).
There is little doubt that many of the people who played an important role in organizing the Aganak-
tismenoi movement by distributing information on Twitter helped #Tutorpool reach a large audience
and, as a consequence, an unexpectedly large base of volunteers. Although this cannot be substanti-
ated with Twitter data from the days of #Tutorpool’s beginnings, data from #Tutorpool’s activity one
year later were available to the author. Figure 2 uses tweets posted under #Tutorpool to depict the
4It is (still) broadly accepted that the teaching provided by Greece’s high school system is insufficient preparation for a place
at university. As a result, private tuition – which often places a very substantial economic burden on Greek families – has, for
decades, been necessary for almost anyone planning to enter higher education.
9
Figure 2: #greekrevolution Twitterers in #Tutorpool’s Network (in black)
Twitter network’s activity between November 11 and November 17, 2012. Node size is set to out-
degree, aiming to capture the most active users in terms of content (re)production. Twitter accounts
that were found to have produced content in the #greekrevolution dataset are colored in black (Twit-
ter account names have been removed for better graph clarity). The message is fairly clear. More than
one-third of the 293 Twitter accounts that engaged in activities related to #Tutorpool (most of them
call for, or redistribute messages about, teachers needed in certain areas) during the given timeframe
were also involved in content distribution for the Aganaktismenoi movement. Most importantly, some
of them ranked in the top ten content producers in both datasets. Indeed, as the black nodes on Fig-
ure 2 demonstrate, very substantial support to, and solidarity with, #Tutorpool’s endeavor came from
pre-existing networks of Twitterers that had been active in organizing the Aganaktismenoi more than
18 months earlier. This solidarity network was invaluable for #Tutorpool’s effort to reach a large au-
dience, build a considerable base of volunteers, and even receive substantial coverage from national
and international mainstream media such as The Guardian (Henley, 2012a).
Looking ahead: A digital opportunity for strengthening Greek civil
society
This chapter discussed the use of social media, specifically Twitter, by the Aganaktismenoi movement.
Such tools set this movement apart from all other previous mobilizations in Greece. In line with at
least the main aspects of what Bennett and Segerberg (Bennett and Segerberg, 2013) call the logic of
10
connective action, social media were the prevalent mobilizing channels, leading to one of the biggest
and probably most diverse – in terms of protester characteristics – protest events in years. This was
achieved largely through the use of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which gave citizens the
opportunity to create groups quickly and easily, and distribute personalizeable content5 about the
events across social networks. Much of the personalized political content was co-distributed and co-
produced by Spanish Twitterers, which created a strong link and sense of solidarity with the 15M
movement.
Although the Aganaktismenoi will be remembered as a peaceful protest movement, the abrupt end
of the mobilization and the lack of follow-up resulted in a lot of negative coverage and in the supposed
vindication of many who, from its beginning, condemned the movement as aimless, apolitical and
immature. Although assessing the movement’s impact is beyond the scope of this chapter, it is worth
stressing that despite the lack of visible political outcomes (contrary to 15M, which morphed into
“Podemos,” currently a rising political power in Spain - see (Fominaya, 2014), the Aganaktismenoi
may have had more subtle, but nevertheless significant, ramifications.
Many of the innovative citizen-initiated groups that played a vital role in shoring up (and strength-
ening) Greece’s notoriously weak civil society trace their origins to the Syntagma public meetings (De-
mertzian, 2014). Many of the people who later became organizers of solidarity initiatives and leaders
of civic innovations visited the protests and met like-minded people with whom they kept in touch via
social media. These communication channels gave them the opportunity to discuss their ideas publicly,
find an audience using networks of friends or unknown others with whom they created loose online
ties during the Aganaktismenoi mobilizations, and build new solidarity networks.
Importantly, what this chapter reveals is that connective action networks offer a flexibility that
may, on certain occasions, have long-lasting consequences and utility for those involved in the self-
organization of protest action – but also for those who were not and got in touch with those networks
later on. Once formed, such networks can remain active – albeit on a sort of “standby mode” - long
after the particular mobilization they were shaped for, and be quickly re-activated to support other
mobilizations or smaller initiatives. Highly successful examples such as #Tutorpool indicate that social
media, especially Twitter, can act as, what Putnam calls, a “social glue” that leads to – or at least lays
the groundwork for – some sort of social capital generation (for some preliminary evidence that such
processes may be at work see (Sajuria et al., 2015)).
Although much more research is needed in order to understand the precise mechanisms, the type
of participants and the impact of social media-enabled initiatives such as #Tutorpool, it is clear that
such digital technologies can give creative and willing citizens opportunities to strengthen civil society
through self-organised networked solidarity initiatives. Since such initiatives are easily transferable
to different political contexts via online interpersonal networks, weak civil societies in particular can
benefit greatly from the opportunities offered by digital technology.
11
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This is a response to the article by Ethan Zuckerman “New Media, New Civics?” published in this issue of Policy & Internet (2014: vol. 6, issue 2). Dissatisfaction with existing governments, a broad shift to “post-representative democracy” and the rise of participatory media are leading toward the visibility of different forms of civic participation. Zuckerman's article offers a framework to describe participatory civics in terms of theories of change used and demands places on the participant, and examines some of the implications of the rise of participatory civics, including the challenges of deliberation in a diverse and competitive digital public sphere. Zeynep Tufekci responds.
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